Restoring History: 1975 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing

The incredible story of Honda GL1000 Gold Wing prototype GL1-1000002.

| July/August 2016

1975 Honda GL1000 Gold Wing
999cc liquid-cooled SOHC horizontally opposed four, 72mm x 61.4mm bore and stroke, 9.2:1 compression ratio, 80hp @ 7,500rpm
Top speed:
129mph (period test/production bike)
Four 32mm Keihin CV
5-speed, shaft final drive
Weight (wet):
650lb (295kg)
Seat height:
31.6in (802.6mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG:
4.2gal (19ltr)/41mpg (avg.)
Price then/now:

Sometime around June or July 1974, after two years of development, clay mock-ups, rigorous engineering and conceptual designs, Honda Project 371 was ready to move to the final stages, with 10 prototype units to be assembled. Honda Motor Co.’s monumental endeavor to build a performance-oriented grand touring motorcycle was about to reach fruition with the GL1000.

In the same way the 1969 CB750 Four was a benchmark motorcycle, Honda wanted its new grand tourer to be the same, a motorcycle of firsts. The new bike would be Honda’s first water-cooled motorcycle. It would be Honda’s first horizontally opposed engine, a design chosen for its smoothness and inherent low center of gravity. And unlike any other horizontally opposed motorcycle engine, it would use overhead camshafts.

In the early stages of design, a 6-cylinder was initially prototyped before project leader Toshio Nozue settled on a 999cc four, with final drive to the rear wheel by shaft. The new engine required a new chassis, and it presented Honda engineers with a number of design hurdles. For one, the engine’s four individual constant velocity carburetors (repurposed from Honda’s 1968-1972 N600 automobile) were placed on top of the engine. That led to the actual fuel tank being located under the seat (further aiding a low center of gravity), with the air filter housing assembly, coolant recovery system, major electrical components and a detachable kickstarter housed in a faux gas tank, with openable panels for access. Fuel was supplied by a mechanical pump driven by the right camshaft.

Introduced in late 1974, the GL1000 was an immediate hit. “If Honda is going to sell a motorcycle for $3,000, then by all that’s holy it’s going to be worth it,” Cycle said in its 12-page April 1975 review, which lauded the GL as a “brilliantly focused” touring machine that was also Superbike fast. How fast? At the time, it was bested in acceleration only by the 993cc Kawasaki Z1, running the quarter-mile in 12.92 seconds at 104.52mph versus the Z1’s 12.37 seconds at 107.39mph.

bike on highway

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